John Montgomery Talks New Documentary About his Activist Brother, 'America You Kill Me'

To call Jeffrey Montgomery a gay rights activist would be an understatement. The legacy of the local warrior for LGBTQ rights is being cemented with the new documentary, "America You Kill Me," coming out later this year. It will take a look at not only Montgomery's personal life but his lifelong fight for gay rights and equality. The production team includes Detroit filmmaker Daniel Land and his brother, John Montgomery.
Between the Lines got in contact with John Montgomery to take an in-depth look at the film and learn about the plans for its release ahead of its Saturday, June 18, Facebook Live preview.

How has the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affected the production of the documentary?
The movie has been in the works for seven years. In April, we were supposed to be the headline movie at the [Detroit] Free Press Film Festival — hopefully, now that'll be in December — but because of the pandemic that all got canceled. But it gave us the opportunity to upgrade the movie with more animations, motion graphics, timelines, graphs — that kind of thing. It enabled us to have a better movie.

Since movie theaters are still closed, how have you been maintaining the general public's interest with the documentary and keeping in touch with them?
We're trying to — as we get ready to release it — build a community that is following the movie on Facebook, Instagram, etc. So, we got involved with the Woodhull [Freedom] Foundation for sexual freedom because Jeff was a board member and co-founder until he died. They went to him for advice for years on any kind of topic. They have been doing weekly shows and events through Facebook Live. This week, Saturday the 18, which is also the fourth anniversary of Jeffrey's death, they are featuring Jeff and the movie. It is from four to 5 o'clock on Facebook Live. There will be clips and outtakes from the movie, I know I also have an interview in there. It finishes up with a live panel with three big-time activists, Cathy Renna, Mandy Carter and Ricci Levy.

Do you have plans for when the documentary will be officially released?
The Free Press said they will have the festival in the first week of December. We will see if that happens, if it does we will be there. We want to have a lot of new people hearing about Jeffrey and getting involved in the story. [From the live event] you will get an idea of Jeffrey's work and where the movie stands right now.

"The public still thinks our lives are a political issue, defined by the mythic 'Gay Agenda.' America… You Kill Me! America kills all of us." – Jeffrey Montgomery

Does the documentary focus on Montgomery's whole life, or just when he started to get politically active?
It starts out with family footage from when he was a little kid and goes through his whole life. In the beginning, it pretty quickly ends up at his work at Triangle — what really put him on the map. It's a full story with a rise, a fall and a legacy.
Jeff was alive for the first 3 1/2 years we were working on the movie. And he wanted no editorial input on it. It was up to Daniel Land, our filmmaker and director, and myself as to what the editorial content will be. We couldn't make it a fluff piece, so we deal with the rise of the fall and what happened at the end.

How did production on this movie start, or, in other words, what was the inspiration for it?
What happened was in 2012 I had a restaurant that went out of business. At the same time, Jeffrey's health was failing so I became his caretaker. I did that for about 3 1/2 years. But during that time he decided he wanted to come out of retirement and become active again. So we came up with an idea of sending him on a college lecture tour.
We had this woman that would interview and film him talking about all kinds of topics — from gay marriage to housing discrimination, job discrimination, hate crimes. The colleges would be able to handpick an interview and he would come to talk about it. A friend of mine and Jeff's introduced us to Daniel Land, a local Detroit filmmaker. He got to meet Jeff and he just bought into the project — thought it was incredible. He said, 'You know, forget the lecture tour — we'll do a full-blown documentary on this.'

Since it has been seven years since the film started development, what are the biggest difficulties you have faced besides the COVID-19 lockdown of course?
It has taken a while because it has all been done on fundraising. There has been no specific schedule, but for seven years we have been doing fundraisers to raise money for the film. For a few years, progress was really slow. In 2018, we got a really good donation from a woman in Rhode Island and we were able to get the movie done. What we are doing now is involving fundraising. We just got affiliated with Documentary Educational Resources and they have become our fiscal supporter. It enables us to have a 501(c)(3) involved in fundraising. We just have hope the world premiere will be in December.

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